If there is a laboratory where it’s been proven that women are the next wave of political power, it is in the West. In Nevada, women have become the majority in the state legislature. Colorado is right behind with 47 percent female representation. But the two states are simply the point of the spear.
Since 1970, the number of women serving in state legislatures has quintupled, a fact not lost on Supermajority, a newly formed political group whose sole purpose is empowering women---51 percent of the nation’s population---to serve in elected office.
Over the weekend, Supermajority convened a one-day workshop in Denver with the specific goal of redefining the political paradigm and reinforce the foundation for women in politics. More than 250 women interested in elected office at all levels showed up to hear Supermajority president Cecile Richards offer both tips and encouragement.
Richards is the daughter of the late Democratic icon and former Texas Governor Ann Richards. She is also the former president of Planned Parenthood. Richards told the women, many of whom attended with young children, that the time for women’s voices to be heard is now. “I feel that there are so many more issues that women care about than health care and reproductive rights that need to be elevated,” she said.
The Supermajority gathering is the first of several to be held nationwide. Others will follow through the fall. “As an organizer I felt this is a real opportunity and real challenge to actually provide the connective tissue, if you will, because I think the sum of the parts is so much greater than anyone has any idea of.”
Because women---especially single women---are the ones making a family’s economic decisions, Richards said they also ought to be given the chance to have a voice on those same decisions beyond just the household. “My dream is that in ten years we quit talking about equal pay and it’s a reality; that women can participate in the workforce and not be penalized that they actually have children and raise families.” Richards also stressed the importance of having women of color having a voice.
Joining Richards at the Supermajority gathering was Yvonne Gutierrez, the group’s head of community engagement and a longtime reproductive rights voice in Texas. “I think our next generation is going to have more opportunities,” said the fourth generation Texan.
Gutierrez own move into organizing was inspired by her mother and grandmother, both women of limited education and, because of the times, limited opportunity. “My mother was one of eight children,” said Gutierrez. “She didn’t go to high school,” but made sure that Gutierrez would not face the hopelessness that so many in previous generations faced. “I look at women like my mom,” she said, a woman essentially forced to live with other people’s decision, “and see Supermajority as an opportunity to build intergenerational advocacy.”
The San Antonio native also spoke passionately before the conference about the reality women like her grandmother faced in a not that long-ago Texas. “Fifty years ago, my grandmother died at age 42 after giving birth to her eighth child. She didn’t have healthcare,” she said. Then, said Gutierrez, as it is today, mortality rates for women in childbirth in the United States are the highest in the developed world. Supermajority, she said, was created to address this issue, one that a country like ours should have solved long ago but hasn’t.
The training Supermajority will impart on women wanting the proverbial ‘seat at the table,’ said Gutierrez, will erase many of the vexing, yet common realities women face today, including economic realities. Latinas, she said, make only “forty cents on the dollar to what a white male makes.” That has been a reality for generations and, said Gutierrez, is overdue for changing.
The women at Saturday’s gathering were asked not to focus on today but instead to look at the future they want for their children, especially their daughters. “We ask, ‘if we had a world in which women fully participated, what would the world look like?’” Gutierrez believes many of the barriers women face today, including pay parity, access to health care and affordable childcare might not be as challenging as they are today for many women if women had more of a voice. In fact, she said, some of these things might be gone.
As she travels the country, Gutierrez said she reminds women about those who came before, including Dolores Huerta, a woman who “fought the fight even in terrible conditions.” Women like Huerta, she said, “were fighting for men who didn’t see the same things,” but she fought on. Huerta, said the Texas organizer, saw the community as one and when she saw unfairness, she stood her ground and faced it. It’s a lesson that all women must embrace, she said.
One of the reasons Supermajority chose Colorado as its first stop on its barnstorming political campaign is that the state has a remarkable and enviable history for women making change.
Colorado was the first state in the Union to seat women in the state legislature. It did it nearly twenty-six years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. In 1894, Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly and Frances S. Klock were elected to the State House of Representatives.